Ballykinler barracks sign
Northern Ireland

Soldier Made Christmas Plans Before Suspected Suicide, Mother Says

An inquest into the deaths of two soldiers has started in Northern Ireland.

Ballykinler barracks sign

The entrance to Ballykinler barracks in County Down (Picture: PA).

The mother of a young soldier who died at an Army base in County Down has told an inquest he "loved" his military career and had been making plans to come home for a late Christmas and spend New Year's Eve in Paris with his girlfriend.

Lance Corporal James Ross, 30, from Leeds, who served in Afghanistan, was found hanged at Abercorn Army base in Ballykinler on 8 December 2012.

The inquest into the deaths of LCpl Ross and Rifleman Darren Mitchell, 20, from London - who also died from suspected suicide three months later - will examine whether there was a lack of support for two soldiers who died in suspected suicides at Ballykinler.

Both men had previously been on active service with 2nd Battalion The Rifles.

An additional eight incidents of serious self-harm involving other soldiers in the same unit were recorded over a six-month period within which the men died.

A preliminary hearing of the inquest was told a colleague described Ballykinler barracks as "Bally Kill Yourself".

The Army had previously conducted its own internal inquiry, which took well over year.

It did find a series of serious failings, including inadequate measures for dealing with vulnerable soldiers who were in need of help at an isolated base.

Ballymena court house
Ballymena Court house where the inquest is taking place (Picture: PA).

LCpl Ross' mother Linda Ketcher told the inquest on Monday that her son had cancelled leave for Christmas to allow others with families and children to get it instead, and allow him to catch up with admin.

But she said he told her to keep his presents under the tree so they could celebrate a late Christmas together.

She also told the inquest that her son found Ballykinler to be a cold and isolated place, so he kept himself busy by keeping fit and taking a number of courses.

But she said he was happy in his career and very pleased at his recent promotion to Lance Corporal. She said:

"He found a career that he loved and was progressing well at it."

Mrs Ketcher also told the inquest she believed she was prevented from speaking to her son's Army friends by more senior people from the Army.

She said that, during her son's funeral, whenever one of his friends came over to speak to her, they were interrupted.

"A few of them [his friends from the Army] were visibly upset," she told the inquest.

"If any of the guys who served with him [came to speak to me], within minutes, there would be someone ushering them away from me.

"It just felt really odd that I could not have a conversation of any kind with his friends from his regiment."

Mrs Ketcher said she does not believe it is acceptable that young men who had served with the Army in Afghanistan were sent to isolated barracks such as Ballykinler.

She said James was "gutted" to be posted to Ballykinler after his second tour of Afghanistan from October 2011 to April 2012.

A friend of LCpl Ross told the inquest that she received a telephone call him three weeks before his death during which he was "distraught".

She said he told her that he wasn't enjoying being based in Northern Ireland, saying there was "nowt to do", adding that overall he seemed bored.

She received a phone call from him three weeks before he died during which she said he did not seem his normal self, and told her that he had been demoted.

The inquest, which is expected to last three weeks, will also be examining the training of nurses.

This is due to the Army's internal inquest finding that Rifleman Darren Mitchell had been displaying signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, the nurse that assessed him has not had any specific PTSD training.

It will also be investigating the underpayment of wages, as one of the soldiers had been underpaid by the Army for years and was in significant debt when he died.